by Anila Dias Bandaranaike, Ph.D.
My father, Sam Wijesinha from Getamanne, a village in the Hambantota district, was proud of his southern heritage. He knew DM Rajapaksa (DM), his brother, DA (DA) and their families well. Sam was Secretary General of Parliament for almost two decades until 1981, and the first Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman) for 10 years thereafter. He worked closely with several political leaders during this time. Always courteous, he respected members of Parliament who worked for the good of the people they represented.
According to Sam, DM was the first Rajapaksa to enter politics. In his 2005 DA Rajapaksa memorial speech (Sunday Observer, December 25, 2005), He said that in 1944, as he sat with DM at the Royal-Thomian cricket match, watching his son, George, beat, “DM was in an expansive mood and I asked him about his school years. He said it was exciting times with Sir Ponnabalam Arunachalam at our helm, how his speeches drew large crowds…. Then he said how sad it was the way our people had let him down, not giving him a place in the Reformed Legislative Council of 1920. It was the start of our current ethnic unrest, he thought. It was at this time that he seriously reflected on politics and returned to the village to participate in public life… ” and “….start a life of dedicated service.
He said “DM represented the inhabitants of the Hambantota district … from March 7, 1936 until his untimely death on May 18, 1945.” and “The Head of the Council of State, the Hon. DS Senanayake, moving a condolence vote, said that “from the day DM left Wesley College during World War I (1914-1918) he made the people of the backwoods of Ruhuna sa own cause. He devoted his whole life to them with courage, independence and unwavering dedication. According to Sam, upon DM’s death, a DA was convinced that “it was his duty to his brother, his family and the peasants of Ruhuna to follow in the footsteps of his revered brother. “Later, DM’s sons entered politics. In the 1960 Parliament, the three Hambantota district electorates were represented by Rajapaksas, DA (Beliatta), Lakshman (Tissamaharama) and George (Mulkirigala).
Sam recounted that shortly after DA became a member of the State Council, DA told him that his wife was expecting their second child. It was my father who suggested that DA name him Mahendra, the idea taken from the life of Emperor Ashoka in Nehru’s book “Discovery of India”, which my father was reading. Whenever anyone referred to “Mahinda” my father would say firmly “His name is Mahendra, not Mahinda.” I gave him that name. “DA had a family of nine children, five sons and four daughters. Four sons are now active in politics.
Sam described the momentous event of 1951 when a disillusioned SWRD Bandaranaike took the extreme step of crossing the House floor into the opposition, hoping to create a new era for the country. He said the only other government MP to boldly risk the decision and follow SWRD was DA. “DA was by no means a wealthy person, but a loner, working honorably with dedication to his people. He had to raise a large young family. He was abandoning a forward-looking position in politics… .. However, he sincerely felt that the best hope for the rural masses lay in his bold decision.
Sam referred to“George Rajapaksa makes one of the finest speeches in the annals of the Legislature of this country …” He quoted George as having said of DM The people of Ruhuna sent him to the Council of State, and until his death he fought relentlessly against the feudal lords who ruled the woods where I come from. When he died, the only inheritance he left me was the inheritance of a name and this little brown shawl that I wear around me in Kurakkan color, which symbolizes the struggle of the peasants of Ruhuna… ” and further “He reminded MPs of all of their many duties and obligations, but that their fundamental and highest obligation is to the people of this country“
My father ended his speech by declaring: DA was a public figure and many noted his integrity, courage and perseverance with which he carried out his duties. But to those around him, he was a kind man and a good man, in a sense that very few are called nice and good. and “He did not abuse anyone personally or a political platform, in parliament or in his personal connections.”
This is how my father and others described the Rajapaksas at the time. They were honest people, without pretension to wealth, position, power or greatness. They understood the difficulties faced by the rural masses they represented and strove to serve them. This was the symbolism of their Kurakkan shawls. Like many others, my father helped DA’s family with their legal, financial and land matters, education, and employment opportunities. Were his efforts in vain to improve their ability to serve the people? I don’t think so, in the early years.
After graduating from the mid-1960s, Mahinda worked as a library assistant at Vidyodaya Pirivena. Concerned about workers’ rights, Mahinda engaged in union activities and served as secretary of the Ceylon Mercantile Union. After his father’s death in 1967, he entered politics in 1968 as an SLFP organizer for Beliatta. Mahinda was truly a man of the people. He moved with the rural masses and understood their burning concerns for improvement. In 1970, he won his seat by a large majority, the youngest deputy at the age of 24. Although he lost his seat in the landslide victory of the UNP in 1977, he continued to engage in politics and support the voiceless.
Resuming his seat in 1989, he continued to defend human rights, demanding justice for those who “disappeared” during the JVP insurgency, along with Dr Manorani Saravanamuttu of the Mothers’ Front, whose son, Richard de Zoysa, was assassinated by the UNP government. forces. He was active in Geneva and at home, asking the United Nations to investigate what had happened. When his party returned to power in 1994, as Minister of Labor, he continued to lobby for workers’ rights. It was the Mahinda Rajapaksa that I first knew – a man who understood the problems of the rural majority and working people in Sri Lanka, and fought for their improvement.
Always friendly, unpretentious, he was greatly appreciated. At St. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia, his three sons were known to be well-behaved, talented boys on the rugby field. I was told that as Prime Minister Mahinda, along with his wife Shiranthi, would come to see their sons play on the rugby pitch without pomp or ceremony. I didn’t know the other three brothers, only that Chamal started his professional life as a deputy police inspector before entering politics, and Gotabaya, a respected and disciplined army officer, retired from there. army and went to the United States.
So what has happened over the past 15 years to the Rajapaksas who represented the rural masses of Sri Lanka?
Today, at astronomical cost, the Rajapaksas have given their base, Hambantota, – a colossal district secretariat for its relatively small population, an unused international conference center, a largely inactive cricket stadium, six-way highways lanes without traffic, a white elephant International An airport and an international seaport now given to the Chinese in lieu of debt repayment. Is this progress towards sustainable development for the inhabitants of Ruhuna?
The country faces multiple crises – inability to pay its foreign debts and essential import bills, most people unable to earn a living or feed their families, a pandemic still unchecked, and looming food shortage following the outbreak. an impulsive ban on fertilizers – to name just one.
So who or what do the Rajapaksas represent today? Is this
rural agricultural masses facing food shortages and massive crop losses without fertilizer, or
capable and educated urban professionals and skilled workers, leaving the country in despair, or
decimated tropical forests, mangroves, wetlands, beaches and depleted wildlife suffering from widespread destruction by those who do not understand our incredible, but fragile, biodiversity, or
wealthy businessmen with extravagant lifestyles of fast cars and fast lifestyles, mimicking the West, or selfish advisers who isolated the Rajapaksas from earthly reality, or
the extended Rajapaksa family itself, captive in its self-inflicted golden cage?
I write these words wondering if they will find a sensitive chord in one of the sons of AD, Chamal, Mahinda, Gotabaya or Basil, to recognize their limits and seek sound professional advice to move our country forward on the path of sustainable development.
NOTE: All quotes in italics are taken from the 2005 DA Rajapaksa Memorial Prayer delivered by Mr. Sam Wijesinha and published in the Sunday Observer of December 25, 2005.
(The author retired and as Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in 2007. As Director of Statistics, CBSL, she led the compilation of provincial GDP data and the collection of data. survey data on living conditions in the 9 provinces after a period of 20 years since 1983. From November 2015 to December 2020, she was a member of the 3-member Boundary Commission, one of the 9 independent commissions appointed by the President under the 19e Amendment to the Constitution)